Volleyball clinches MAC Tournament berth

T'ara-Austin
T’ara-Austin

The Northern Illinois University volleyball team clinched a spot in the Mid-American Conference Tournament with a 3-1 victory Friday over Ball State in Muncie, Ind.

Despite dropping the first set to the host Cardinals (13-11, 7-4 MAC), the Huskies’ (17-8, 10-1 MAC) defense was scary good with 68 digs and 12 blocks in the win. Along with punching a ticket to the conference tournament, NIU also moved three games ahead of BSU and Western Michigan in the MAC West Division race.

“They put a lot of pressure on us in the beginning and we didn’t do a good job, in the first half of the first set, handling it as we needed to,” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden. “Even though we lost the first set, we had some good momentum going into the second if we started off strong and we played good Huskie volleyball.”

In front of an energized home crowd, the Cardinals gained the early advantage in the first set by racing out to a 7-2 lead courtesy of three service aces. A pair of kills from T’ara Austin (Joliet, Ill./Joliet Central) drew the Huskies closer at 7-4, but a 4-1 run by BSU pushed the hosts to an 11-5 lead. Jenna Radtke (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Stevenson) and Austin countered for NIU with successive spikes, but the Cardinal offense kept the pressure on en route to a 22-15 lead.

The Huskies tried to rally late, using a 3-0 run from a Lauren Zielinski (Oak Forest, Ill./Marist) kill and a block from Mackenzie Roddy (San Bernardino, Calif./Cajon) and Shelby Seurer (Delano, Minn./Delano). Yet, the Cardinals held on for a 25-21 win.

NIU grabbed a quick lead in the second at 3-1 thanks to a pair of Seurer blocks and a Radtke ace. BSU rallied to tie the frame at 5-5 and hung tight with the Huskies until 10-10. That is when back-to-back spikes from Roddy and another from Radtke pushed NIU ahead, 13-10, then used three more following a Cardinal kill to extend the lead to 16-11. That stretch proved to be the difference, as kills from Seurer, Zielinski and Mary Grace Kelly (Strongsville, Ohio/Walsh Jesuit) put the set on ice and sent NIU into halftime with a 25-19 second set triumph.

Alexis Gonzalez
Alexis Gonzalez

Out of the break, Roddy, Zielinski and Alexis Gonzalez (Fresno, Calif./Bullard) kills gave NIU a 5-3 lead, only for BSU to counter with consecutive points to forge a 5-5 tie.

At 9-9, though, the Huskies broke away thanks to two Roddy spikes and a Cardinal miscue. However, BSU responded with a 4-0 run to move ahead, 13-12, and force the Huskies to burn a timeout. Though the Cardinal offense found a rhythm, the Huskies stayed close. Trailing 19-18, NIU made its move with two-straight Roddy kills, then used a Seurer spike and a Seurer/Roddy block to make it a 22-20 lead. Thanks to two BSU errors and a Kelly/Seurer block, the Huskies emerged with a 25-21 win in the third.

“I think we just started to handle it a little better,” Gooden said. “We weren’t making the plays that we needed to make early in that first set and, as the match went on, our serve and our block became more of a factor. I thought we did a nice job of touching them on the block and stuffing them, really frustrated them. We were able to score some really big points.

“Roddy was key for us in that third set with all the kill points she had and all the serving points she had. She did a good job of leading the team and our team did a really good job of playing well for each other.”

Down two sets to one, the Cardinals shot ahead in the fourth with leads of 4-2 and 8-4. Undaunted, NIU came back with Zielinski and Kelly kills coupled with an Anna Brereton (Sun Prairie, Wis./Sun Prairie) ace to tie the set at 8-8. BSU moved back into the lead at 11-9 with a pair of spikes, but NIU got back to a 12-12 tie following a Roddy/Seurer block.

The Huskies made their move moments later.

Mary Grace Kelly
Mary Grace Kelly

Trailing 14-13, Zielinski’s kill opened a 4-0 rally – which included a solo block from Kelly and a Seurer/Kelly combo – that pushed NIU ahead, 17-14. BSU rallied back to a tie at 18-18, but the Huskies’ 5-0 run to close the set proved to be the difference in a 25-20 win.

“We still have some goals in mind and one of those is to clinch a spot in the MAC Tournament,” Gooden said. “We have another tough match tomorrow at Toledo as we continue on this tough road swing. It’s nice to get another road win tonight.”

Three Huskies posted double-digit kills on the night with Roddy recording 18. Zielinski and Kelly each tallying 11, while Gonzalez notched 49 assists. Defensively, Seurer recorded seven blocks and Brereton notched 22 digs.

NIU plays Toledo at 4  p.m. today. For more information on NIU volleyball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.

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